LOS ANGELES (CNNfn) - Sony Pictures Entertainment doesn't have the license to replicate the agent who is "Licensed to Kill," a federal judge ruled on Monday.
U.S. District Court Judge Edward Rafeedie declared he will rule in the coming days in favor of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. (MGM) -- the Hollywood studio that has owned the rights to the James Bond franchise since 1962.
"This has to be one of the darkest days in the history of Sony studios. Their attempt to kidnap James Bond has been foiled and once again 007 has prevailed," said Pierce O'Donnell, partner at O'Donnell & Schaeffer, MGM's outside counsel.
The dispute dates back to October 1997 when Sony reached an agreement with producer/director Kevin McClory to make a new series of James Bond feature films.
The rival studio argued it can legally make the movies because McClory - who wrote the original screenplays that became "Thunderball" in 1965 and "Never Say Never Again" in 1983 - has an agreement with the late novelist, Ian Fleming, that predates MGM's right to the character.
Sony feels that it is justified in spinning off its own Bond franchise, said David Steuber, partner at Troop Meisinger Steuber & Pasich, Sony's outside counsel. 172 Kb WAV] [172 Kb AIFF]
However, MGM contended that any rights McClory had to the Bond name expired by 1989 under U.S. copyright laws.
Lawyers for Sony and McClory persuaded the judge to delay granting MGM's request for an temporary injunction while he reconsiders their arguments. But in court the judge seemed unconvinced and is expected to rule in MGM's favor later this week.
For MGM, the stakes are huge. The franchise is the struggling studio's only consistent money-maker with $2.5 billion in box office receipts from 18 Bond films since the 1962 classic, "Dr. No."
MGM blames Sony for disrupting MGM's initial public offering last year by announcing its competing Bond plans at the same time.
And MGM accuses Sony Pictures President John Calley, a former MGM executive, of stealing trade secrets and using them to help Sony develop Bond films.
Sony will have another shot at 007 when this case proceeds to trial in December. Both sides are seeking tens of millions of dollars in damages.